McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Brantford physician recognized for her empathy for dying patients

By Suzanne Morrison
Published: February 23, 2012
Bernadette McNeil
Dr. Bernadette McNeil, a family physician and medical director of the Stedman Community Hospice in Branford

To those who know Dr. Bernadette McNeil best, it's a familiar sight to see her hand-in-hand with a dying person or holding the child of a dying mother while she gently and honestly answers their questions.

Over the past 11 years, McNeil has supported hospice palliative care in Brantford and Brant County. In 2011 alone, she assisted in the end-of-life care of more than 700 patients, their families and caregivers, in partnership with two other palliative care physicians.

A family physician and medical director of the Stedman Community Hospice in Branford, McNeil is the recipient of the 2012 Elizabeth J. Latimer Prize in Palliative Care.

The award is named in honour of Canadian pioneer and international palliative care physician and educator Dr. Elizabeth Latimer, professor emeritus in the Department of Family Medicine, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, at McMaster University. It will be presented to McNeil on Thursday evening, February 23, at a gala award dinner at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Known to colleagues as "Bernie", McNeil began her career with a diploma in nursing. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science nursing degree before enrolling in medical school at McMaster where she gained further insight into palliative care from another local pioneer, Dr. Denise Marshall.

Similar to Latimer, McNeil combined her nursing and medical careers, deciding her focus as a family physician would be hospice palliative care. When Hamilton's Juravinski Cancer Centre opened a satellite cancer clinic in Brantford, McNeil became one of four family physicians supporting local oncologists and family doctors.

In partnership with Dr. Andrew Trevor and Dr. Julie Gladstone, McNeil has been medical director of both the Stedman Community Hospice and the Brant Community Healthcare System's palliative care unit.

"She always works as an equal member of the hospice interdisciplinary team. She values everyone's opinion from the family member to the volunteer and peer physicians," said Cheryl Moore, executive director, Stedman Community Hospice.

As well as holding down a part-time family practice, McNeil devotes three days a week to the Stedman hospice's quick response supportive care outreach team. She carries all the pediatric palliative children in Brantford, regularly visiting families, and has close ties to palliative pediatricians at McMaster Children's Hospital.

"She has a special gift with dealing with young moms and dads with a life-limiting illness … she has an insight and empathy for the people she serves that makes her a reliable source of comfort and knowledge," said Moore in her nomination letter.

As well as mentoring nurses, McNeil teaches family medicine residents from several universities who want to gain further expertise in palliative care.

In the past, she has served as chief of complex continuing care for the Brantford Healthcare system and palliative care at Willett Hospital as well as assistant clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster.

Previous Winner of the Elizabeth J. Latimer Prize in Palliative Care

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